This review was corrected on Sept. 4, 2002.
Claude Jutra, auteur of 1971 French-Canadian classic “Mon Oncle Antoine,” was also a one-hit wonder. In her portrait of the talented helmer, Paule Baillargeon — actress, director and friend — contemplates the conditions that resulted in so promising and so disappointing a career. With its tale of talent that couldn’t find financing and an uniquely eerie fusion of biography and fiction, pic should perform well on fest circuit and secure a niche on public TV or indie cable outlets.
Baillargeon delves into an extensive library of footage showcasing Jutra, a man whose public persona was bright, funny, articulate and borderline fou. Jutra often acted in his own and other people’s films and frequently was interviewed; docu makes good use of its subject’s well-archived talent and charm. Film excerpts provide a running commentary on his life, plus an unlikely series of rehearsals for his death.
Jutra’s carefully planned suicide off a bridge followed scripts he shot with nearly letter-perfect precision. His short “Cine boum” (1964), a zany lament on the difficulty of getting backing for films in Quebec, ends with Jutra going over the edge of a building with a plaintive cry about the lack of government support.
Almost unbearable is Jutra’s cameo in one of Baillargeon’s films, which finds him playing a doctor delivering an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis to a patient, a role Jutra couldn’t memorize since he himself had the disease.
On a less somber note, docu includes an interview then-neophyte Jutra and cameraman Michel Brault filmed with Fellini and his wife, Giulietta Masina, in a New York hotel room. Here and elsewhere, pic succeeds as a snapshot of the once-raging New Wave and its influence across the pond, where Jutra’s style was much admired by Truffaut, Renoir, Cassavetes and Bertolucci (the latter, the sole survivor, reminisces here). Slim as Jutra’s output was, his enthusiasm alone practically willed into existence a modern Quebecois cinema of transcontinental significance.
After Jutra’s art piece “A Tout Prendre,” which, like many a New Wave film of the time, gathered praise and opprobrium in equal measure, came the unqualified critical and B.O. smash “Antoine,” followed by big-budget, big-star costumer “Kamouraska,” which failed to measure up to expectations.
what might have been a temporary glitch turned out, in Jutra’s case, to be a dead halt. Jutra continued to toil in exile, making TV movies and the odd feature film in English-speaking Canada.
Aside from oblique hints of homosexuality and lengthy narration about Jutra’s intense relationship with his mother, docu posits a private life that could never separate itself from moviemaking.
Tech credits are fine, particularly the editing of clips. The fragmentary nature of Jutra’s oeuvre actually helps docu, since his early shorts with their flashes of brilliance and lyrically homemade quality fit intriguingly into the bio format.